Written by Joe Lee & Photos by Olivia Zeringue and Sarah Massey
It may be 2018 as you stroll down University Drive and make your way toward the Mississippi State campus, but it becomes 1978 in almost the blink of an eye when you step into Scooter’s Records, a new record store that opened in November in the old Rain and Shine tanning location.
That’s right, a vinyl record store, replete with strips of hanging beads that separate the record displays and counter space from the office, and vintage Led Zeppelin and Easy Rider posters on the walls. The creaky hardwood flooring lends the same ambience you might have found at Record Shack on nearby Lafayette Street back in the day.
So what made owner Scott Thomas think he could launch a successful record store three full decades after compact discs wiped long-play albums off the map? A lot is riding on this leap of faith; while Thomas has drummed for years with a variety of local bands, those have been side gigs. He just retired from the City of Starkville after 28 years of full-time work to open his store.
“When I was about to retire, I knew this was what I wanted to do, especially since Starkville was the only college town in this area that didn’t have a record store. Oxford, Tuscaloosa, Hattiesburg and even Tupelo have one,” said Thomas, who graduated high school in Louisville and attended MSU in the late 1980s. “Starkville in some ways has always been several years behind everyone else, but that worked out great for me because records started coming back five or six years ago.”
“I’m sharing music with this generation of college students. (Maybe) someone got rid of their stereo long ago and still has their records. If they have kids, maybe the kids are getting the records. They might pick out what they want to keep, and bring the rest to me to see if it’s anything I can do something with.”
Thomas appraises the condition and value of records brought to him with an eye on buying what he thinks he can sell. And he loves every second of it, whether inspecting an English pressing of an old David Bowie album or considering much newer artists on vinyl like Childish Gambino.
“It’s fantastic to see this come back,” Thomas said of the trend toward vinyl. “In 1990 most of the stores were getting rid of the albums. There’s probably hundreds of albums for sale here that I got back then. I have new and used records for sale. The used stuff is where I’m making my money – the margins are real narrow on the new stuff. I take trade-ins and give estimates on what I’ll pay for someone’s records.”
Jim Beaty, one of the owners of Backstage Music of Starkville, said that the respect Thomas carries as a working musician will serve him well in his new endeavor.
“Make no mistake, this idea for a record store was not something that just popped up. Scott’s been germinating this plan for quite a while,” Beaty said. “The shop has a very cool vibe, almost as if you’ve dropped into a 70s-era record store. And that was the golden age. With a great location – along with his knowledge, personal attention and contacts – I expect Scooter’s Records to be a fixture in Starkville retail for a long time.”
Jeff Brazil, director of video and scouting for the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team, was in town when the Lady Hogs came to Starkville to play MSU in early January. A rabid collector of vinyl records, Brazil seeks out record stores in cities where his team travels and learned of Scooter’s Records through a Google search.
“I’ve visited record stores in SEC cities like Nashville, Gainesville, Oxford and Baton Rouge,” Brazil said. “I’m 40 and grew up on the turntable and records. I think they sound better – a warm, full sound on a good system brings back good memories – and I like being able to read the liner notes, see who’s playing on the record and where it was recorded.
“This is a good store, right up there with them. Good prices. I like the ambience with the disco ball, and seeing a lot of cars in the parking lot on a Thursday afternoon. Everything is labeled, and you know what the price is.”
Also, shopping was Tyler Blanton, a student at MUW who was given a turntable at Christmas by his aunt. A fan of the Arctic Monkeys, Blanton went retro with his purchases at Scooter’s Records, buying vinyl from Abba, Yoko Ono, the Pet Shop Boys and Paul Simon. Collector Chip Hawkins, a Kosciusko resident, browsed while Thomas appraised his copy of a vintage Big Star album.
“I don’t collect for value,” Hawkins said. “I collect for things I want to listen to, and I’m looking for what a professional – like Scott – would tell me the Big Star record is worth. And if there’s a particular Buffalo Springfield record, for example, that I don’t have that catches my eye, I’ll grab it.”
Thomas sells several brands of turntables, including high quality products by Audio Technica that he says compares favorably with the Technics models from a generation ago. He sells gift cards and is willing to travel within reason to look at record collections that folks are considering unloading.
“I don’t know everything the kids are listening to,” Thomas said. “If someone comes in and asks for something on vinyl, I’ll try to find it and get it in. And I’ll try to pass my tastes off on people – I just put one of my Funkadelic records out there on display – as well as taking suggestions from people who come in.”
Visit Scooter’s Records at 519 University Drive and find Thomas’s store on Facebook.